If I were to make a racist or sexist comment in this column, there would surely be a storm of protest and much social media outrage. Yet I could make a series of patronising comments or derogatory jokes about old people, and probably the only criticism would come from my wife.
Unfortunately in this youth-obsessed culture, there is little respect for older people or acknowledgement that they can still make significant contributions to society.
Much of the negativity around ageing comes from stereotypes which really belong in the middle of the last century. In spite of the fact that there’s masses of research debunking the idea that most people over 60 are “old and frail”, this perception is still widely held.
Governments fret about the cost of looking after an ageing population, but seem incapable of finding ways to utilise the knowledge and energy that many 60s and 70s still possess.
Age discrimination in the job market is alive and well, though most employers have policies against racial and sexual discrimination. While we are all familiar with the comment “60 is the new 50”, try getting a job in your 60s.
All of this nonsense ignores the reality that in first world economies, it’s going to be normal for many children being born now to live to be 100. I should add that these future centenarians are expected to be in reasonable health for most of those 100 years. These forecasts are being made on the expected improvements being made in medical science and the growth of the wellness industry.
We are going to see major changes in lifestyles as society adapts to the 100-year life. People will have to work longer as few can afford 30-40 years in retirement. We won’t be able to finish a university or TAFE course in our early 20s and then work in our chosen industry for the rest of our lives. Many industries existing today will be gone in the next 30-50 years. The norm is more likely to be a life of continuing education, with many people going back to university or technical college to do totally different courses in their 40s and 50s.
So at a time where improvements in nutrition, wellness and medical science are pushing people in first world countries towards longer and healthier lives, isn’t it time to get rid of the antiquated stereotypes about aging that belong in the mid-1900s?
Surely it’s time for governments, employers and communities in general to start thinking about how our society is going to handle a world where the 100-year life will become the reality for today’s children.